France fears ‘great vi­o­lence’

Au­thor­i­ties wor­ried that an­other wave of ‘great vi­o­lence,’ ri­ot­ing will be un­leashed in Paris by a hard core of sev­eral thou­sand ‘yel­low vest’ pro­test­ers, says an of­fi­cial

The Gulf Today - - WORLD -

PARIS: French au­thor­i­ties are wor­ried that an­other wave of “great vi­o­lence” and ri­ot­ing will be un­leashed in Paris this week­end by a hard core of sev­eral thou­sand ‘yel­low vest’ pro­test­ers, an ofi­cial in the French pres­i­dency said on Thurs­day.

De­spite ca­pit­u­lat­ing this week over plans for fuel taxes that in­spired the na­tion­wide re­volt, Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron has strug­gled to quell the anger that led to the worst street un­rest in cen­tral Paris since 1968.

Ri­ot­ers torched cars, shat­tered win­dows, looted shops and sprayed and anti-macron grafiti across some of Paris’s most aflu­ent dis­tricts, even de­fac­ing the Arc de Tri­om­phe. Scores of peo­ple were hurt and hun­dreds ar­rested in bat­tles with po­lice.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe an­nounced late on Wed­nes­day that he was scrap­ping the fuel-tax in­creases planned for 2019, hav­ing an­nounced a six-month sus­pen­sion the day be­fore, in a des­per­ate bid to defuse the worst cri­sis of Macron’s pres­i­dency.

The El­y­see ofi­cial said in­tel­li­gence sug­gested that some pro­test­ers would come to the cap­i­tal “to van­dalise and to kill.”

The threat of more vi­o­lence poses a se­cu­rity night­mare for the au­thor­i­ties, who make a dis­tinc­tion be­tween peace­ful ‘yel­low vest’ pro­test­ers and violent groups, an­ar­chists and loot­ers from the de­prived sub­urbs who they say have in­fil­trated the move­ment.

The yel­low vest protests, named for lu­o­res­cent jack­ets French mo­torists are re­quired to keep in their cars, erupted in Novem­ber over the squeeze on house­hold bud­gets caused by fuel taxes. Demon­stra­tions swiftly grew into a broad, some­times-violent re­bel­lion against Macron, with no for­mal leader.

Ed­u­ca­tion Minister Jean-michel Blan­quer urged peo­ple to stay at home dur­ing the com­ing week­end. Se­cu­rity sources said the gov­ern­ment was con­sid­er­ing us­ing troops cur­rently de­ployed on anti-ter­ror­ism pa­trols to pro­tect pub­lic build­ings.

The fuel-tax volte-face was the irst ma­jor U-turn of Macron’s 18-month pres­i­dency and points to an ad­min­is­tra­tion scram­bling to re­gain the ini­tia­tive as dis­en­chanted cit­i­zens feel em­bold­ened on the streets.

The un­rest has ex­posed the deepseated re­sent­ment among non-city dwellers that Macron is out-of-touch with the hard-pressed mid­dle class and blue-col­lar labour­ers. They see the 40-year-old for­mer in­vest­ment banker as closer to big busi­ness.

Trou­ble is also brew­ing else­where for Macron: col­lege stu­dents are ag­i­tat­ing, farm­ers who have long com­plained that re­tail­ers are squeez­ing their mar­gins and are fu­ri­ous over a de­lay to the planned rise in min­i­mum food prices, and truck­ers are threat­en­ing to strike from Sun­day.

Fi­nance Minister Bruno Le Maire said he was com­mit­ted to “is­cal jus­tice” and on Thurs­day an­nounced France would uni­lat­er­ally im­pose a tax on big in­ter­net com­pa­nies if Euro­pean Union mem­bers failed to reach an agree­ment on a bloc-wide levy.

While such a step might not be di­rectly re­lated to the ‘yel­low vest’ move­ment − France has been lead­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions for an Eu-wide tax on dig­i­tal rev­enues for months − the gov­ern­ment will hope that it ap­peals to the pro­test­ers’ anti-big busi­ness sen­ti­ment.

Bud­get Minister Ger­ald Dar­manin said aban­don­ing plans to for fur­ther fuel-tax hikes in 2019 would cost the trea­sury 4 bil­lion eu­ros ($4.53 bil­lion). Pressed on whether deficit tar­gets were in jeop­ardy, he replied: “We will keep our books in or­der.”

Reuters

A French riot po­lice­man walks past a burn­ing car as youth and high school stu­dents protest against the French gov­ern­ment’s re­form plan in Nantes on Thurs­day.

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